Connecticut School District Aims to Expand Farm-to-School Programs

By Kimberly Drelich, The Day

Groton — As the FoodCorps service member for the town’s schools, Emma Rotner has seen students excitedly coming up to her in the cafeteria to show her vegetables on their trays while more students are bringing them for snacks.

And students, once nervous to try fruits and vegetables, are now sampling kale and eating apples.

Through farm-to-school initiatives at Charles Barnum and Claude Chester Elementary schools, students have planted seeds in school gardens, cared for the plants and tasted the food they grew, Rotner said. Teachers also incorporated the gardens into the curriculum. For example, students took measurements in the garden for a lesson on square footage and learned about fractions while making salsa and fruit salad.

“That’s been a really fun way to make hands-on learning come alive for students,” Rotner said.

Since 2015, Groton has partnered with FoodCorps, an affiliate of AmeriCorps that works with school districts, typically in more under-served areas, to provide farm-to- school programs, she said. The program offers educational activities to teach students about growing food and provides farm-fresh produce to introduce students to new foods and help them create healthy habits for the rest of their life.

Comprehensive educational programs currently are in place at Charles Barnum, with a 51 percent free or reduced lunch population, and Claude Chester, with a 76 percent free or reduced lunch population, according to a summary of the program from the school district.

The Groton school district is now applying for a two-year $100,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to continue and expand the farm-to-school program and fund the program coordinator position, said Superintendent Michael Graner. The Board of Education approved the grant application at its meeting on Monday.